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Is Internet access a basic human right? T-mobile thinks so

(TECH NEWS) Last year, T-Mobile announced a plan to bring free and at-cost internet access to 10 million homes in the US; 2020 has made this mission crucial.

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Student viewing internet on tablet.

Modern classrooms practically require students to have access to the internet in order to succeed. This was the case well before COVID forced a national switch to remote online learning.

It’s hard enough to rely on public computers and WiFi networks to complete school work under ordinary circumstances — and I speak from experience there. But campuses, libraries, and cafes are still closed or limiting access in most places. The school year is already a month in progress, yet the struggle to get online is still too real.

This was captured perfectly in a photo that received viral attention on Instagram when the fall semester started: Two teenagers seated on the ground outside of a Salinas Taco Bell, using the restaurant’s internet for their schoolwork.

Fortunately, in their case, the girls’ school district was able to help them obtain a Wi-Fi hotspot. And they’re continuing to distribute hotspots and laptops widely to its student body.

In light of this, T-Mobile is investing $10.7 billion dollars over the next 10 years into ensuring youth are no longer put into situations like that. The company is partnering up with school districts to provide students with a free wifi hotspot and 100 GB of data year (or roughly 8 GB of data per month).

An estimated 16.9 million US youth currently lack internet. In a recent interview with the Associated Press, T-Mobile Chief Marketing Officer Matt Staneff cites his concern that a majority of school-age kids consider homework to be a major source of stress in their lives.

Of course, telecommunications companies are clearly aware of how much our educational systems depend on the internet. It is unquestionably the most comprehensive collection of human knowledge and culture ever. It can no longer be considered just a luxury or a novelty. It’s a critical tool for academic and career success.

While he acknowledged the potential business opportunity in providing schools with internet connectivity, Stanek claims T-Mobile’s intentions are good. He stated, “We recognize there’s a problem in society of kids not being connected. We want to do more than just try to win customers. This is a huge problem.”

Staneff concedes that suitable Internet access extends to hardware, too: “[sometimes students] need a bigger screen, which is why [T- Mobile is] also offering at-cost, larger-screen devices.”

But even if T-Mobile has the best intentions, the fact remains that they aren’t a charity. Service providers like T-Mobile would probably not be too happy about the lost “business opportunity,” should tablets and internet access be made freely available to every student. The schools are public, and they rely on the internet, yet the internet is privatized.

The responsibility to solve the civic issues brought on by the pandemic is increasingly falling onto the private sector. If T-Mobile is willing to offer the money and infrastructure to help kids get an education, that’s a step in the right direction.

Yet it prompts the question: Should we consider internet access to be a human right? Because as long as the web remains corporately controlled and commodified, the access gap will persist and our schools will pay the price.

Desmond Meagley is an award-winning writer, graphic artist and cultural commentator in D.C. A proud YR Media alumn, Desmond's writing and illustrations have been featured in the SF Chronicle, HuffPost, Teen Vogue, The Daily Cal, and NPR among others. In their spare time, Desmond enjoys vegetarian cooking and vigorous bike rides.

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Could your office benefit from an open floor plan?

(TECHNOLOGY NEWS) Science proves that open floor plans are more conducive to office productivity, but will it work for everyone?

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If you walk into a tech startup, nine times out of ten you’ll find an open seating / bull-pen style seating. Whereas traditional work environments are divided up into departments with individual offices and cubicles, open offices have floor plans that put all employees in the same room. Studies have shown that cubicles don’t increase productivity. As a matter of fact, people are more productive when they are sitting close together, but can see each other.

Pros of openness

Some of the advantages of an open office floor plan are obvious. These kinds of offices are economical because you can fit more people and more desks in less space, and because it is more efficient to heat, cool, and light one large room than several small rooms.

Open office plans also facilitate communication between managers and their employees, and between departments.

Rather than taking the stairs or hiking down the hall to collaborate with another person, you can simply holler across the room.

Cons of openness

Unfortunately, all of that hollering can sometimes be pretty distracting. A University of Sydney study found that half of workers in open offices say that the most frustrating part of their workplace is the “lack of sound privacy.”

Open offices are not only noisy, but are also less secure, since everyone can overhear one another.

Employees may get peeved if they can’t concentrate because of all the noise around them, or can’t make a phone call without being overheard.

Dr. Who inspired solution

A startup called Framery Acoustics offers a solution.

They create soundproof phone booths and meeting pods designed to complement open office floor plans.

One of the founders, who previously worked in an open office, complained that his boss talked too loudly on his cellphone. His boss replied, “Well, get me a phone booth.” Thus, Framery Acoustics was born.

Simple solutions

Framery Acoustics is just one company that offers a product suited to appease open office dissenters. Framery Acoustics isn’t ready to give up on openness and neither should you. So, when it comes time to return to your office (if you haven’t already), look for ways to make your office more flexible. Whether it is by providing a quiet capsule for private meetings and phone calls or just having a designated section for meeting, the solution is out there.

Compromising allows you to reap the benefits of an open office plan, while still ensuring that you and your officemates have privacy and quiet when it is needed.

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Real Estate Technology

Google’s project management tool organizes and automates your tasks

(TECH NEWS) The beta is out for Tables, a project management tool that uses automation and a well-rounded user interface to organize teams and productivity.

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Google Tables graphic, Google's new project management tool

Keeping track of different documents and tasks to manage a project can take a lot of time because everything isn’t easily accessible in one place. Hunting down notes from different meetings and emails to keep all this documentation up to date is exhausting. And, there’s always someone who doesn’t have their ducks in a row so you’re having to make sure they are updating their parts, too. The project management aspect takes up more time than many tend to expect.

Google’s Area 120, the company’s in-house incubator for experimental projects, has come up with a very neat tool that should, hopefully, remove a lot of these problems. Tables “helps teams track work and automate tasks to save time and supercharge collaboration—without any coding required,” wrote Tim Gleason, the general manager for Tables, in a blog post.

When you first open Tables, you will land on the homepage. From there, you can access your most recent tables and workspaces. If you want to create a new blank workspace or table, you can do so by clicking the “New” icon. You can also import already created Sheets and .CSV files as custom templates. Also, there are blank templates to help you get started working quickly. Templates for things like managing data, tracking projects, and employee recruiting are among those included.

Tables are made of columns and rows that use structured data. Each column has a defined data type, which enforces the “relationships on data contained in the rows.” Easily displayed icons at the top of each column let you take a “quick glance” of what information is contained in each section. If you double-click on a column, you can make changes to the “structured objects” and changes will be automatically reflected everywhere else on the table.

Plus, Tables lets you build automated actions and triggers by using Bots. With the Bots, teams can schedule recurring email reminders. This means you can nudge that one team member who is always running behind on their projects. Team members can send messages in chat rooms to let everyone know when a new form submission was received, or move and assign a task to another team member when the status on a task has changed.

Because Tables uses structured data, you can configure the data into different layouts. This means you can switch from a grid layout to a Kanban layout view. And, you can also create Forms that let you collect data from people anywhere. Questions in the Forms are directly tied to the existing table columns so setup is easy. And, of course, Tables can integrate easily with other Google products like Google Sheets and Google Groups.

“Tables is like a spreadsheet and a database had a baby and gave it special powers,” said Sam Dresser, VP of education at School of Rock in a video. The performance-based music education school is one of the companies that has already started using Tables. Sam says the school is very collaborative and uses a lot of spreadsheets. Because Tables work well with other G-Suite products, the tool allows them to “jump in and start collaborating and start working right away” on their projects.

Tables is a work-tracking tool that does look very user-friendly. Just by looking at it, you can see the familiar clean and tidy feel that all Google pages have. The idea of being able to have all your notes in one place that can be updated automatically without all the manual work is worth checking it out. Currently, Tables is in beta in the U.S. The free plan gives you 100 tables, 1,000 rows, 1GB for attachments, and 50 bot actions. If you need more wiggle room, you can get 1,000 tables, 10,000 rows, 10GB for attachments, and 500 bot actions for $10 per month. So, do you think it works as good as it sounds?

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Real Estate Technology

Freelancers, easily sort out your admin tasks with new pack of Notion goodies

(TECH NEWS) Notion is one of the favored tools for freelancers, and with this new pack made by Ben Issenmann, it’s even easier to sort out your administrative work.

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Notion Pack advertisement image, showing features for freelancers.

Time is a valuable thing, and it’s one of the most important things for freelancers. There are only so many hours in a day, and only so many things you can get done in each 60-minute window. Being self-employed is rewarding because you get to work on the things you love. (At least, I hope you do.) However, this also means all those boring administrative duties fall into your laps. So, time needs to be set aside for the not so fun paperwork duties.

But, freelancers, fret no more! Ben Issenmann, founder of Supercreative, has created a pretty neat template pack that will help save you time. His company provides tools, ideas, and courses for professional designers. And, his new product is Notion Pack, a pack for freelancers that want to collaborate with their clients.

In a recorded interview, Ben shared how Notion came about when he had a conversation with his friends. Because of that conversation, he wrote an article explaining how his designer and freelancer friends were using Notion to collaborate with their clients. He received a great number of responses from people who wanted to use his product. Excitedly, Ben said, “And I was like, okay. There’s definitely something I can do with this!” A few weeks later, Notion Pack was born.

According to his website, the pack has “all the freelance documents you need.” It comes with 20 different templates. The pack contains templates for quotes, invoices, sales proposals, contracts, etc. “It’s going to save freelancers a lot of hours spent on admin, time they can use on creative activities instead,” wrote Ben on Notion Pack’s Product Hunt page.

And every hour saved means more time to work on new projects that put more money in your pockets. Yay to that!

Notion Pack is divided into two parts. The Template Generator gives you access to the 20 templates. By clicking on a template, you can generate a new Notion page. Each page is color-coded. Yellow highlights the fields that you need to change for every client. While red highlights the things you need to configure beforehand when you set up each pack.

The Freelance Workspace has an out-of-the-box structure. When you press “Create new client”, it will generate all the templates in the correct order. From there, you can collaborate with your clients directly in Notion or export a PDF. To add a personal touch, you can add a video to say a quick hello to your client. Also, instead of having to share 10 different pages, the workspace will capture everything you need in one organized shareable page.

Another cool thing about Notion is the ability for clients to schedule time with you. Powered by Calendly, an online appointment scheduling software, a collaborator can book a time to follow-up with you straight through their workspace. I like the idea of that!

The Notion Pack is available in English and French. But according to a comment on their Product Hunt page, it might eventually be available in more languages.

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